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Remember These Three Barihunks

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Jarrett Ott, Steven LaBrie, and Tobias Greenhalgh at the May 22 launch party for “Remember” at Carnegie/ Weill Hall. | JAMES GAVIN

“Remember,” a CD project of Roven Records, had a fun launch party at Carnegie/ Weill Hall on May 22. The stars of the fine CD and the concert are three veritable barihunks launched on fine careers — Tobias Greenhalgh, Steven LaBrie, and Jarrett Ott. LaBrie and Ott are that rare thing: out classical singers who are not countertenors. (Among the composers involved, Glen Roven himself, Jake Heggie, and Jennifer Higdon are also part of the community.)

Happily, all three guys impressed with their voices and commitment as well as their looks. LaBrie tended to overproject; more dynamic shading would improve his ability to interpret songs with piano. He sounds more relaxed on the CD.

Greenhalgh shone in John Adams’ memorable “Batter My Heart” and showed good Gallic style in four striking Paul Éluard settings by Roven.

Tobias Greenhalgh, Steven LaBrie, and Jarrett Ott enliven a Roven Records launch

Ott stood out for his remarkably graceful tone production and his keen verbal delivery: a real Liedersinger. For me, Higdon’s setting of Whitman’s famous lament for Lincoln, in his rendition, earned pride of place both live and on the CD.

A medley drawing on baritone operatic chestnuts seemed — in the context of a sophisticated industry crowd — a near-total misfire, especially as the only participant in good form was vibrant-voiced, wide-ranged Kyle Pfortmiller, who merits a starrier career.

That’s true also of Amy Shoremount-Obra, who joined the bill as a “belle-itone”; though her shining, impressive soprano didn’t prove the best match to John Duke’s Emily Dickinson songs. She sounded more at home in Roven’s “The Promise”.

The pianists, all impressive, included Adam Nielsen, Andrew Rosenblum, and Danny Zelibor.

LaBrie reappeared June 2 in New Amsterdam Opera’s concert of Donizetti’s once-popular “La Favorita.” Keith Chambers’ organization, new to me, impressed with a fairly polished and full-out reading of the score in the West Park Sanctuary Theater’s notably good acoustics.

Eve Queler was aptly in the house: perhaps New Amsterdam can harness her legacy of exploring recondite works in concert readings.

“Favorita” — now usually played, though not here, in its musically superior and more logical original French version — has some splendid ensembles and a star baritone part that prefigure Verdi (particularly “Ernani”). LaBrie sang very well if without all the requisite elegance: he showed good line and made something of the text, but lacked a trill (so did nearly everyone else) and — again — was consistently at near-top volume, as if auditioning for Rigoletto at the Met. He should be at the Met — he’s certainly better than some of the Silvios, Enricos, and Belcores recently heard there. Near the end of Act Three, he showed he could modulate dynamics, to excellent effect.

As Leonora, Catherine Martin, a fine artist, lived her role convincingly and sang committedly, even if with rather too angular a sound for this music. Kevin Thompson (Baldassare) brought pleasing bass resonance and projection, needing only to steady the very top and attend more to diction. Peter Scott Drackley, the Fernando, showed Italianate promise in a few places but encountered lots of static. Admittedly the character is a simple dupe, but the tenor showed no characterization whatsoever — concert opera is its own art form, as Martin’s fine performance showed.

Meanwhile, watch for Chambers’ continuing explorations with New Amsterdam Opera.

On June 5 the super-out conductor Michael Tilson Thomas made his first-ever appearance leading the wonderful Met Orchestra at Carnegie, a mere 49 years after his first Boston Symphony gig there. He started with the “Evocations” by American original Carl Ruggles, a very characteristic work sonorously and richly played.

The evening’s guest soloist was South African soprano Pretty Yende — lovely to see, with an essentially lovely sound, but also heavily promoted as a “backstory artist.” Hers is an inspiring story, and unlike some other musicians put forward by the industry she has genuine talent and charm. That does not make her a finished artist, as Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate” showed. Yende is essentially a lyric soprano with agility rather than a coloratura, and she had trouble with the first aria’s high cadenza and also with trills — none more than “indicated.” Pitch sometimes faded at the end of long lines. This music written for a male castrato tests many sopranos in the lowest sections and she proved no exception.

That said, Yende did produce a largely beautiful stream of tone. Even with the orchestral forces cut way down, the motet sounded high caloric by contemporary standards. The partial standing ovation was as unmerited as was justified the full standing ovation for the evening’s main offering, the Mahler Fourth. In the finale, Yende did very well, channeling the child’s innocence but also manic imagination in sparkling sound.

And like the Ruggles, this showed MTT on home turf: a detailed, well-paced, and not unduly schmaltzy take, with the gorgeous third movement treated aptly as the piece’s emotional heart.

Concertmaster David Chan and the entire brass section had a field day. With his San Francisco Symphony, MTT led a splendid “Peter Grimes” in 2014 and tackles “Boris Godunov” later this month. Could he be the conductor to rescue these first-rate operas from the Met’s neglect?

Updated 2:20 pm, September 4, 2018
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